Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
VMT

Maryland Vows to Reduce Driving to Save the Climate — And It’s Not Alone

A new executive order will require the Maryland DOT to put VMT reduction at the center of its climate strategy. Which states will follow their lead?

The governor of Maryland has pledged to make reducing how much his residents drives a front-line climate strategy — and advocates hope other state leaders will follow suit.

On Tuesday, Gov. Wes Moore issued an executive order requiring state agencies to implement a raft of new measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including to "establish specific annual greenhouse gas and vehicle miles traveled reduction targets for the transportation sector."

That move solidifies a key requirement outlined in the state's new Climate Pollution Reduction Plan, which in December proposed a goal of reducing VMT 20 percent by 2050 in order to put Maryland on track to cut overall emissions 60 percent by 2031. Officials justified the move as critical "in light of projected budget challenges," and committed to "focus‬ on funding transportation projects that reduce dependence on single-occupancy vehicles."

Advocates stress that there's another good reason to put VMT reduction strategies first: because we can't stop the worst of climate change without them. Study after study after study has shown that it is nearly impossible to meet the transportation sector decarbonization goals of the Paris Climate Accords by simply switching internal combustion engines for batteries, especially in light of skyrocketing vehicle prices that are slowing the rate at which drivers replace their dirty cars.

As significant as Maryland's move is, it's only the latest entry to a small but growing list of states that have recognized the urgency of reducing how much their residents drive. Connecticut governor Ned Lamont issued a similar executive order back in 2021; the New York State legislature is currently mulling a VMT reduction measure of its own.

Minnesota, meanwhile, made cutting mileage the centerpiece of its climate strategy last year, requiring its department of transportation to either cancel road projects that promise to put more drivers on the road, or mitigate their impacts with investments in things like transit, bicycle infrastructure, and pedestrian safety.

Colorado, for its part, recently scrapped not one but two major highway projects in light of a new climate law, a move which New York Times reporter Megan Kimble recently called "a new vision for the future of transportation planning."

It's not clear whether Moore's order will force Maryland to cancel highway expansions — though another policy currently under consideration in the legislature would. It's also not clear how the legislature will actually fund the infrastructure improvements and land use changes that might give Free Staters good alternatives to driving, especially considering the $3.3-billion budget shortfall with which the transportation agency is current grappling.

And it also isn't clear what the future is for destructive auto-centric projects that Moore has already rubber-stamped.

"This is a promising sign, but if Governor Moore wants to reduce VMT, simply telling MDOT to do that isn't enough," said Dan Reed, regional policy director for Greater Greater Washington. "He needs to cancel the widening of 495 and 270 that his predecessor Governor Hogan started, at a minimum."

Still, if Maryland can solve that puzzle, the results for the planet and local residents will be massive. Analysts at RMI recently estimated that if the state can meet its 2050 VMT reduction goal, it would eliminate 78 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses, save 1,422 lives that would have otherwise been lost to car crashes and pollution-related diseases every year, and put an average of $3,271 in avoided fuel, maintenance and vehicle depreciation costs back in the pockets of local households annually.

"Gov. Moore joins the growing list of governors on both sides of the aisle who understand that expanding clean and affordable transportation choices requires bold and target-driven policy solutions," added Miguel Moravec of RMI, who helped conduct that analysis. "[His] support of VMT targets speaks to the national reality that we’ll need both electrification and mode shift to unlock the benefits of a climate-aligned transportation system."

This story has been updated with additional comments from Greater Greater Washington.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Federal Judge Sets Aside a Key Congestion Pricing Lawsuit

Gov. Hochul's rationale for killing congestion pricing took another blow on Thursday as a federal judge dismissed one of the major lawsuits against it.

June 21, 2024

Friday’s Headlines Are Supercommuting

Why are so many Americans schlepping to work for 2+ hours in a car these days?

June 21, 2024

Friday Video: Why Cities Around the World Are Reducing Speed Limits

"At some point, we have to realize that anybody fighting against lower speed limits in cities is either willfully ignorant, or they're a selfish asshole who values their convenience more than other people's safety."

June 21, 2024

Talking Headways Podcast: When Driving is Not an Option

Talking with the great Anna Zivarts about non-drivers, car seats, and the week without driving.

June 20, 2024

Report: Cities are Undermining Sustainable Mobility with Fees and Taxes

Why is it so much more expensive to unlock a scooter than it is to just jump in the car?

June 20, 2024
See all posts